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More parties

Teachers Day wasn’t quite the blowout that it was last year, but I still had fun. It was a small but stalwart group who participated. The other women and I cooked literally all day outside in the teacher’s compound. Remember last year when the goat we had purchased ran away? Well, this year we had trouble even tracking one down at all, so one of the teachers got up at 3 am and rode his bike 8 km to pick one up. Then the French teacher and I spent a few hours cutting it into bite-sized pieces. We set up the party, ate dinner, and danced until the power cut out. So then we amused ourselves by singing traditional songs and dancing. We had a dance off, with teachers from different districts in Mozambique showing off traditional dances. (Machanga! Chibabava! Quelimane!) They even made David and me get up (United States!), and we did a little of what I could remember from square dancing in high school PE, which was a hit. Then I went to bed, but we all ate lunch together the next day and listened to music, before everyone had to go back to work the next day.

I wrote a little while ago about night classes for adults. The class of ninth graders were some of my favorite students from this year, and they threw a party for themselves to conclude the year, too. The class is made up of teacher´s wives, fisherman, construction workers, midvwives and the head of the main political party for the area. They were all very excited and serious about it and most of them dressed up. I was invited along with some other teachers and we ate dinner and danced together. It was seriously the sweetest thing ever and the highlight of my week.

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School year ends

Suddenly the year is over. Most of my students are gone, on summer vacation. The teachers and students in 7th and 10th grades are busy taking national exams, the teachers busy controling and correcting them. I was sad to say goodbye to my students, of course. We had little parties with my theater groups so that helped bring some closure to what otherwise feels surreal and anti-climatic.

Also surreal: I’m posting this from the computer lab in Estaquinha, where we just got Internet! It’s slow and has had some glitches so far, but is a great thing for the school. I’m hoping that it will facilitate keeping in touch with students and other teachers next year.

It has been a busy trimester. I organized a little trip to a “historical site” several kilometers outside of Estaquinha–a series of caves. I had been wanting to visit since I heard of their existence last year, and the visit of some foreigners involved with the mission in Beira gave a good incentive to put something together. First we had to go talk to the local chief, or regulo. We went with two of his sons, one a teacher and the other a builder for the mission and other teachers and nurses tagged along. We all filed down a path between some boulders and then had to bend down to pass through a tunnel before it opened into a wide open cavern. The coolest part was that there were holes through the ground above us that trees were growing through, so everything was cast in natural light. Look on Facebook for photos.

I took a lot of field trips with my students. The Ndau theater group joined with a similar group at another mission to go all the way down to the mission at Machanga, in southern Sofala. We all presented different plays which was a lot of fun. A lot of the plays my students come up with seem rooted in fable or folklore, with stock, almost commedia-like characters and broad, usually racy, sort of screwball comedy. In the play we performed in Machanga, a betrayed husband hatched a plan to trap his wife’s lover. Convincing his wife and daughter he preparing ahead of time for the event of his death, he bought a coffin and stored it under his bed. The next time his wife brought her lover over, the husband surprised them and the lover hid inside the coffin. The husband left town with the key to the coffin and the lover ended up suffocating to death. Macabre but hilarious.

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Gardens

Our Peace Corps friend Micah came to visit so David and I had the chance to do a little passear-ing in Estaquinha. There’s a river a few kilometers away that people cross every day to go to school and fish on in dugout canoes. A night student of mine fishes occasionally and he took us out on his boat and on a walk around through bush on the other side. We picked sugar cane and cassava leaves to make matapa.

In the afternoon, we rode the tractor out to the farm where the mission produces food for the dormitories and to sell for profit. This time of year yields a lot of produce so we brought lots of food home. This year I was also able to achieve my goal of having a garden. I joined forces with my friend Rosa to pay some people to care for a plot of land out near the mission’s garden. So far, it is a success! The garden is already full of lettuce, cabbage, different kinds of greens, onions, potatoes and we’ll soon have potatoes and beans. We’ll never be able to eat it all and will have to give it away. Even though I haven’t done barely any work on it, it’s satisfying and fun to eat things that I picked myself.

The problem is that the garden is too far to walk to; even by bicycle you need to allow a good hour or two to get there, harvest and come back. I’ve had a bike almost since I arrived in Estaquinha but it’s poorly made and has given me nothing but problems. Preparing to ride home last week, I noticed the tire I had pumped up before heading out was now completely flat. Fortunately, I was with the kid who works on the garden and he said we would go to find a pump. He got on his bike balancing bags of produce on the handlebars, lifted my bike upside-down over his head with one arm and instructed me to perch on the back of his bike. We rode like this for probably 500 meters until the mission tractor came by and I was able to catch a lift.

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REDES Conference, 2011

Last year I wrote about helping out with the REDES conference, sort of the culminating event in a project for young women, Raparigas em Desenvolvimento, Educação e Saúde (Girls in Development, Education and Health). Peace Corps volunteers and other Mozambican women who work with young women in schools or communities bring two girls to participate in the conference, really more like summer camp for girls, which includes activities and information about a whole range of topics, from sexual health to women’s rights to planning for your future to nutrition. The program was started by Peace Corps volunteers several years ago but it’s grown into a nation-wide project with three regional conference in the south, central and northern parts of the country.

Our conference was at a campus outside of Chimoio. It was exciting because I was able to bring my colleague Rosa and two of the girls from the theater group we have in Estaquinha. Rosa was great to work with and participated in all the sessions. One of my girls is a natural leader and also seemed to be thriving; the other is pretty spunky in Estaquinha, but seemed to be shy or uncomfortable with some of the material. I couldn’t tell if she was intimidated by some of the more sophisticated girls or if she was having trouble with so much Portuguese or if it was a combination of all those things. Since we’ve returned, however, she has been more of a leader in our group and sometimes wears her conference name tag and matching headscarf around school.

Due to my lack of cell phone service, I couldn’t be involved in too much of the preliminary organization for the conference, but I stayed really busy during that week. I was responsible for all the guest speakers that we had invited. We rented a minibus to transport everyone from town to the site of the conference, and I spent most of the day driving around picking people up, running errands and making friends with the drivers. I really enjoyed doing behind the scenes and I think everything was a success overall. It seemed to be a meaningful experience for the girls, which is the most important thing.

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Life in Estaquinha has been full and rich and monotonous at the same time. I gave a few of my teaching hours to a colleague so I have a little more time to plan my lessons and chat with friends and read and watch American TV at leisure. It’s hard to believe I’m now in my last term here–just three more months. It will be hard and strange to say goodbye but I’ll be ready, too.

Nelta moved back to Beira to take care of family, and while I miss her, it’s nice to have a little more space in the house. I agreed to keep Maria on until the end of the year–it’s not too much of a financial burden and it’s nice for Luisa to have a companion. The two of them sleep in Nelta’s old room.

The news from the States includes oppressively hot weather on the East Coast. Two friends in two separate e-mails apologized for complaining about the heat because I must be hot all the time in Africa. I mention this because we’re actually nearing the end of what has been a particularly cold winter. I think my body has partly just adapted to a warmer climate, but it’s definitely been colder than last year. This doesn’t sound very newsworthy, but because life here is designed to be spent outside, it has made a big difference. The windows at school don’t have glass so early in the morning and at night the students just sit and shiver. At least as a teacher you can stay on your feet and pace between the rows of desks. Many people don’t have sweaters or jackets; girls wrap capulanas around their shoulders.

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Family visit

I was fortunate enough to host my parents Tom and Mary Louise in Mozambique at the end of May. They flew into Beira and we traveled the next day to Estaquinha. It was lovely to introduce them to everyone in my life and to show them around. Luisa cooked all the quintessential Mozambique dishes, and we took dug-out canoes across the Búzi River.

After that we flew to Nampula where we rented a car and drove out to Mozambique Island, or Ilha de Moçambique. We scrambled around the old Portuguse fort and sailed through the clear water in a dhow. Next stop was an isolated beach outside of Ilha at Chocas-Mar, and now we are at a rustic dive spot outside of Nacala. I loved exploring and guiding my parents around and I think it was fun and eye-opening for them too.

They left from Beira on the same plane that my brother Paul flew in on. He was coming directly from having finished a study abroad program in Jordan. I brought him back to Estaquinha and then he and David and I went down to visit Peace Corps friends in northern Inhambane province. We took a dhow out to an island where we went snorkeling–beautiful, though it’s winter here so while the sun is still hot, the ocean water gets cold fast. Then I accompanied Paul back to Beira to fly back to the States, and I made my way back to Estaquinha.

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I’ve been really lucky with my health during my time (so far!)–I’ve avoided malaria and didn’t have any problems adjusting to different food and water. But one morning I woke up bothered by what felt like a patch of dry skin above my upper lip. Since my skin is temperamental even in the States, I didn’t think much about it, just put on some lotion and went to class. But by the afternoon the skin was bright red and pretty irritated. The next day I started to feel the same thing on my neck and upper back. The color had deepened to a dark red and the swaths were painful rather than just uncomfortable. I looked like somebody had beaten me with a strap or branded me with a branding iron (particularly on the back of my neck where it formed the shape of a neat horseshoe).

I was mystified because I had no idea where the wounds had come from. I was getting lots of concern because it was so noticeable. Some people were urging me to go to the hospital in Beira, but others wondered if it wasn’t something more common. Other teachers reported waking up with similar lesions–they thought it was from a bug that ‘pees’ on you during the night. Some mentioned something called queimadura da noite, night burning.

Convinced I was dying, I hiked the 3 km to telephone the Peace Corps doctor. He recommended putting anti-itch cream on it and told me to call back in a few days. But then the irritation started to heal off on its own, flaking off like a scab. I think it was just some secretion from a bug, but it wasn’t immediately recognizable to my friends because it manifested itself so much more violently on my fair skin. I was finally able to talk to another Peace Corps doctor, who assured me that queimadura da noite was actually herpes, so we ruled that out, too. I still have scars on my face and neck, like those of a stubborn sunburn, but I imagine they’ll continue to fade. In the meantime, I’ll continue to be vigilant about using my mosquito net when I sleep.

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